With two weeks to go in the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized a rule that permits social service providers who are recipients of federal funds to deny services based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The rule will impact a myriad of social services managed under HHS, including foster care and adoption, HIV prevention, homeless services, and services for the elderly.
The new requirement overrides anti-discriminatory protections put in place during the Obama administration. In the new rule, HHS argues that the protections violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prevents the government from burdening individuals’ religious practices.
“With this rule, the Trump administration and HHS continue their no-holds-barred and comprehensive assault on the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and everyone living with HIV, as well as on women, religious minorities, and limited English speakers,” said Attorney Sasha Buchert in a statement released by Lambda Legal. “Even as Trump administration officials abandon ship, HHS has announced yet another dangerous rule that invites discrimination against the very people federal grant programs are meant to help.”
The ruling is just the latest from the HHS, which has in the past four years worked to undercut anti-discriminatory protections in public health services and policy, most notably in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Lambda Legal and other organizations have challenged many of these rulings.
ABC News reports that Biden’s transition team has declined to comment on whether it would overturn the rule. However, Ron Wyden (D-OR) vowed in a statement to work with the administration “to restore humanity to HHS.”
The issue of religious freedom as it applies to state-sponsored service agencies is also at the heart of Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia, which is currently before the Supreme Court.